“Hey, are you doing okay?” I said.
He didn’t turn around. “Never better.”
“I was serious when I said you could leave. Not that you need my permission.” I remembered the very first time I’d learned he even had a seven-year-old sister. The tattered photo he kept in his wallet of the tiny, scarred blond girl. The reason why he became part of the Circle in the first place, and the only reason he cared about the power that being the thirteenth line could bring. It wasn’t fair to him that now he was so caught up in it that he hadn’t run when he had the chance. It wasn’t fair that he had to be here now rather than ensuring that she was where she should be. He should leave. “Once it’s safe again, you can take Anya and go.”
I thought he might answer. But just like when I’d mentioned it in the tunnels earlier, he didn’t say a thing.
Everyone disappeared into separate rooms off the same hallway with nothing but a wave and quick plans for the morning. Tomorrow, we were going to get out of Egypt and rescue Fitz. I stayed watching all their doors for a few seconds before I shut mine.
My room was sparsely furnished, with a heavy wooden armoire, a stiff-looking sofa, a bed, and a thin rug over the brick floor. A stick of incense had been lit and sent up thick, sweet smoke.
I took a shower—cold, because I couldn’t figure out how to get the water to warm, or maybe there wasn’t a way, since this was not a fancy hotel—and flopped onto the bed, pulling the thin quilt over me.
Every part of my body ached. It wasn’t just the bullet wound—it was the stiffness from sitting on the bus so long, the blows from the explosion, the knot on my elbow from falling out of my chair deceiving the guard at the hospital. It all caught up at once, and I thanked Elodie a million times over for the painkillers she’d grabbed.
I stared up at the ceiling fan, which was turning lazily. We were just off the lobby, and outside my door, footsteps clomped back and forth on the brick floor. Someone made a comment in Arabic, and someone else laughed. When we’d walked through the lobby, it had smelled like mint tea, and I realized it did in here, too, over the incense.
I lifted my head. A silver pot of tea with a slim metal cup and a small dish of some kind of pastries—fried dough balls soaked in a syrup—sat on the nightstand next to the single lamp. The proprietor must have delivered it as we were checking in. My worn-out heart thumped at the kindness of the gesture, the way it made this insignificant place feel more like home than anywhere had lately.
Home. What would that mean for me now? Earlier, it had sounded like Jack planned to stay with the Circle once this was all over—but now that he was a Keeper who had killed a family member, everything was a lot more complicated. Elodie, I assumed, might go back to the Order. Stellan would almost certainly leave the Circle as soon as he could, though he hadn’t confirmed it. He hadn’t said much the rest of the drive, actually.
I let my eyes drift closed, playing over everything we’d said in the car. It had been so long since I’d really talked to anyone. I’d isolated myself from all of them lately, but being without Stellan had been especially hard, I realized. Instead of making me more stressed, talking to him made me feel stronger. The last time we’d talked like that was probably at that bar in Cannes, right before we—
My eyes flew open.
I stared up at the wooden beams of the ceiling, but the picture wouldn’t fade.
Maybe after shutting everyone out for so long, I just wanted somebody to hold me and comfort me. But if that was the case, I would have turned to Jack earlier rather than breaking it off with him, right? I knew it wasn’t just that. If I was being honest, I’d been hyperaware of Stellan ever since that kiss at the Melechs’. I had no idea why. It had been a fake kiss that had made me panic. Not exactly the stuff of romance novels. And yet. No matter what, it wasn’t something I wanted in my head, not least because recently, those thoughts led to other, uglier ones.
I grabbed the second pillow and pushed it over my face like it would block out the images. I pictured every fancy dress I’d worn that had ended up torn or bloodied or burned. I tried to remember all twelve Circle families’ mottos and symbols. I started the alphabet backward—and around R, there was the memory again, kissing him on the steps of a bar in Cannes, under a green striped awning, at Colette’s villa. Us with Colette not long after that, in Paris, right before—
I was only under one blanket, but it was stifling. I shifted restlessly.
There were more footsteps outside, and they stopped. There was a light tap at my door. I bolted upright, and my first thought was to feel guilty about what I’d just been thinking. The second was to grab my gun, just in case. I padded on bare feet across the cold brick and said, “Who is it?”
“It’s me,” Stellan said.
I had known it would be.
I set down the gun, unlocked the deadbolt and the chain lock, and opened the door. The lamp on my bedside table cast only a dim glow, and he stood silhouetted in the lobby light.
“Did I wake you up?”
“No,” I said.
“How is your shoulder feeling?” His accent was thicker than usual.
He was chewing on his lower lip, looking different from the person who had just been kissing me in my head. He’d grown more gaunt recently. His eyes looked tired. Sad. A little broken. They had for a while, and I just hadn’t noticed. Probably because all of ours did.
But he looked—oh God. He looked good. He was wearing a new T-shirt he got from the mall earlier and tracksuit pants that were too short for him. His hair was down again, and wet like he had just showered. He looked so much better than I wanted him to look. I had the distinct impression that, for maybe the first time ever, I was thinking impure thoughts about him and he wasn’t reciprocating.
“I lied. I’m not doing entirely okay,” he said, without looking up from the floor. “Can’t sleep.”